The Facade of 300

I think I just got the true significance of the new music company, 300. In my estimation, there’s much more here than what first meets the eye.                  

Up till now, streaming services have been doing little more than recycling pre-existing works (Beats Music- which is being represented as a streaming company made up of music business luminaries- is simply selling a new, shiny, consumer-friendly way to do this while expanding the Beats name/empire). 

One of the most profound accusations leveled at streaming services (apart from data showing that their business model is failing or how pathetically miniscule their royalty payouts are to the artists who created the works they exploit) is, they are exploiting pre-existing content but doing nothing to support the creation of new works. After all, it’s not as if any of the streaming companies actually create, manufacture or encourage the manufacture of anything.

Further, detractors claim, the fact that streaming services (and the tech industry in general) are not helping create new content is one tell-tale sign that they don’t actually care about art, apart from its face value as a commodity (all their protestations to the contrary) and therefore, do not have the best interests of artists at heart.

Of course, the tech industry have kicked back at these pernicious statements by trotting out their preternaturally volksmensch-ish spokespeople and CEO’s. They all seem to be punched out from the same mold- casual yet styled/groomed but not ostentatious in the slightest, ingenuously humble in a way that belies (or screams) arrogance ; at very least moderately attractive and slightly Asperger’s-ish. And, to a man, every last one either plays in a band, has played in a band, or just plain “loves music” and would never do a thing to hurt it. 

With the formation of the 300 label, these hostilities may be rendered moot. The name 300, which is taken from the legendary battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC between a relatively small cadre of elite Spartan warriors (whose ranks totaled 300) against a far greater Persian army, suggests an intrepid, rugged, maverick approach to the business of music- something bold, exciting, perhaps even a bit innovative. A fearless, nonconformist warrior-spirit, prepared to stand its ground in the face of a vast mediocre and clueless opposition. 

Of course, it can also be perversely funny if you envision Gerard Butler and his massive CGI-enhanced thighs, heroically raging at a contingent of enrapt artists that, tonight, they’ll record in Hell.

And though not specifically in the streaming business (oh, wait- there’s Google Play), Google (which, by underwriting 300, has plaintively demonstrated it indeed has a dog in this fight) appears poised to enter the realm of “content creation”. But, given the timing, (amongst other things) methinks this move feels like an old-school military tactic- to outflank an opponent (in this case, artists, advocates for artists’ rights, etc) and rout them as expediently as possible. 

With this in mind, is it not somehow ironic that the company name references a famous battle?

Here’s one very major red flag that makes 300 look utterly sketchy to me. The fact is, Google could have started this same type of venture with anyone in creation. God knows they have the money. 

In spite of this, which horse do they back? Lyor Cohen. 

One of the least artist-friendly CEO’s ever to grace a record company boardroom. The guy who made 360 deals an iron-clad prerequisite for new artists at Warner Brothers. Someone whose public rhetoric clearly demonstrates his interest in music falls unredeemably short on its intrinsic value and rests, with prejudice, on its value as a commodity. 

In press releases, 300 is being trumpeted as a “new kind of record company”, one which puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on “artist development”.

Just take a moment- read those words, say them and let them roll off your tongue. Just for fun, why not use some odd inflections while you do it? 

Aaaaahhhhrrrrteeeeest deeevellllluuuuuuuhhhhpmehhhhhnttt. Feels good to say, looks good on paper; it sounds so right, seems like a great idea and yet, no one really knows what it is. That’s because no one actually performs it in any recording company (or business peripheral to recording companies) anywhere, anymore. 

At all. Ever.

I think the reference to Lyor in this blog post speaks volumes (mainly the paragraphs regarding artist development)-

http://www.refinedhype.com/hyped/entry/rapper-poor-artist-devleopment

And here is a segment of an interview with Lyor in his own words, discussing his feelings on 360 deals-

http://www.bet.com/news/opinion/sound-off/lyor-cohen-weighs-the-positives-of-360-deals.html

During Lyor’s tenure, I spoke with various A&R people at Warner’s about this crazy little thing called “artist development”. These conversations left me with the impression with that, across the board, the A&R staff felt “artist development” had mainly to do with building an artist as a “brand”- kind of like Cap’n Crunch, The Cabbage Patch Kids or Louis Vuitton. In their collective mind, this branding was to be achieved by tossing said artist in a van and having him play his repertoire of songs in seedy pay-for-play dives for a couple of years. 

You know, the way The Beatles did it. And hey- look what happened to them.

Mind you- all the driving around, gigging and eating rancid leftover Ramen for months at a time is on the artist’s own dime. It “builds character”.

I randomly encountered a Warner’s artist (at about the same time) who had been in “development” for about 2 years. Her minders at Warner’s employed an “artist development” variant which centered around shuttling her from session to session with a gaggle of songwriter/producers who would consistently use her as a “talking head” to further their agenda- having a “hit”. She was nothing more than another vehicle for them. 

Each time she had a new song to play for the brass, their response was to find someone else to do a few remixes and then, send her to a new songwriter/producer to repeat the same formula as infinitum. Last time I heard, she was dealing with an eating disorder, seeing a shrink and still in “development”.

Based on all the above, I feel extremely confident that Lyor Cohen is someone who understands and can implement “artist development” about as well as I could give myself a blindfolded brain transplant using toothpicks, a butter knife and some Postit notes. 

He is, however, a very smart man- a very driven salesperson who could sell radioactive waste to Fukushima if he was so inclined. One thing I’m sure Lyor and I have in common is, we both know the term “artist development” has an execeptionally nice ring to it and using it without prejudice will probably gain him a great deal of mileage. In this way, he makes a seemingly perfect bedfellow for the aforementioned tech companies. They also recognize that the term “artist development” is terrific window-dressing, (and a great companion phrase to “content creation”) even if it doesn’t…quite…compute.

Anyway, smart move- score one for Team Google. Now, whenever anyone who supports artists’s rights challenges the tech industry and states that no one in Silicon Valley gives a rat’s ass about artists, their work, the value of copyrights or about developing any new music, the pro-tech contingent will be able to shoot that down. They will be able to say, oh no- that’s not at all true. Why, just look at the 300 label. It’s Google funded, run by someone- Lyor Cohen-  a long-term industry pro who knows artists, supports artists and understands “artist development”. 

See? We really do care. 

Yep. By buying into the business of, er…”content creation” (by way of buying into a nascent recording company), Google can now appear to be on the frontlines of support for the arts and shoot down the anti-artist arguments with ease. However, it’s doing so by backing an old-guard, artist-unfriendly, profit-by-any-means music business insider who is going to make the exact same choices with 300 as those he made at all the other businesses he ran. 

And do you think anyone working under the Google imprimatur has even a distant clue of what “artist development” is? Hahahahahahaha. Now, that’s just straight up amusing. 

All the players in our little drama have track records and a past. While progress progresses and technology advances, the intrinsic nature of a person always remains the same. And people who join together in groups- they generally have the same agenda. But you already knew that.

The facade of 300 also affords us more unique insight into how clueless and insensitive to creativity and arts communities the people in the tech world really are. How, although they purport to be part of the solution, they are very much part of the problem. As an example, please read as much into the following article as you can (as it immaculately demonstrates what I refer to as the “widget mentality” evinced by the tech industry en masse)-

http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20140111/00092625842/unexpected-things-guy-capitalizing-concept-music-seo-recording-100-songs-day.shtml

To me, 300 is nothing more than a Trojan horse. A diversionary tactic, a means to gain entree and convince an opponent that you come bearing gifts when your true agenda is conquest and total dominion.  It’s also a shot for a self-proclaimed “entrepreneur” (oh God- how I’ve come to despise that term, thanks to its relentless overuse) to get back in “the game” with a slick new presentation of the same old shit. 

Right here and now is when we backtrack to the irony that the name 300 references a battle. And, that not only 300, but Lyor Cohen himself, is essentially Google’s prize Trojan horse. 

Yup- you’ve seen this movie before, and often. Therein lies the facade of 300.

This entry was posted in 300 record company, art, artist development, creativity, Downloading, expression, Google, Lyor Cohen, Music, Music Business, Music Industry, Music Production, Pop Music, Popular Music, record production, Recording, Recording industry, Song writing, streaming, Uncategorized, Warner Records, Warner's. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Facade of 300

  1. OK… I hate doing formal “Dear Mr. Miacheal Beinhorn” things on blogs…. But…

    Hello Mr. Beinhorn:

    Thanks for writing this blog and providing this information. I had heard a little about the 300 thing, but didn’t knowe that much about it. I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be the same-ol’ same ol’, and I’m still hoping. But you’ve certainly shown that I shouldn’t keep my hopes up.

    I’m a bassist / guitarist / mandoli-ist / vocalist who has great dreams of being mediocre one day! I found your blog via studio bassist / musician Dan Schwartz. I’ve always been a liner notes guy who relished getting an album, opening the sleeve and finding out which of my favorite musicians played on the songs, or find new musicians I could then get to know…. And steal licks from! :-) I also love the liner notes featured on a blog like yours that exposes the inner workings of the record industry too. Note I didn’t say music industry, because it’s not about music of course, it’s about product.

    I’ve never been in the industry, but I gained a bit of knowledge from my older brother, who was a touring guitar tech for Gilby Clark (post G&R), the Church, and Tripping Daisies. He got to see first hand how the contracts each of these artists had were good for the record label, but not the artist… Especially for Gilby Clark. There is a guy who has tons of talent. His solo albums were indeed quite good. But, despite the fact that he was very very popular around the world, he got no lift or support at all from the record label at all, especially in the states. They had already written him off as a has-been.

    Ah… The states. The attitude displayed by the labels is that if you’re not popular here, then you’re second tier artists. Toto may be the best example of a band getting the shaft here in the states. And, of course, the labels ultimately decide what gets played on the radio, so if they don’t push a song, it doesn’t get popular, and then the label says the artist has lost its appeal with the American public. For the record industry, there is absolutely no patience for the artist to grow and mature and put out a few albums and grow an audience as there was in years past. Note, a favorite artist from Austin, Bob Schneider, was a rising star in the late 90’s, and came to be on the radar of the Majors. He was offered several contracts from the big boys, and turned them all down because he was doing well as an independent, and to this day, makes a good living and does not at all regret his decision.

    I’m not familliar with Lyor Cohen. But he doesn’t sound at all like someone who would be a Herb Alpert / Jerry Moss type person. I had long admired Herb Alpert as a musician, and then even more so when I found that he was the “A” half of A&M records. From my understanding, he and Moss ran the record company for the musicians and treated them fairly and like family. I read an NPR interview a couple of years ago talking about the way Alpert and Moss ran things, and how, upon selling the company to Polygram, even though the founding fathers of the company were still consultants, they saw that things were going sour within weeks of penning the deal. The only lawsuits I could find against A&M were either relating to contracts and money issues that occurred after the sale, or, brought by Alpert and Moss themselves against Polygram for breach of contract..

    When I was younger, I wanted to be a DJ. My dream was to be able to play a few songs here and there that were not on the playlist so that people could hear something new and good, and get a good song or band some air time. Once I realized that, in the highly structured industry that is American radio, that simply would not be possible, I lost the motivation. As a musician, 27 years worth, I never had the burning desire to become a “Rock Star” or famous. I simply love playing music. I’ve been writing songs and lyrics for myself for even longer, and am only now arranging the best of them, or if not the best, the ones that will cooperate enough to make the transition from half written lyric to playable song. Later this year, I intend to go into a studio and record what will become my very first solo album.

    Anyway, I’ve ramble on enough. Just want to say thanks for your blog. I’m looking forward to your next post.

    P.S. Hope it is OK if I add your blog to my “Hear Ye Hear Ye” section of my blog.

    Thanks again.

    Mike Alexander aka Sonicfrog. (at sonicfrog.net)

    • williedd says:

      I think you mean Tripping Daisy. I absolutely love them. Was your brother still working with them when their guitarist died (1999)? Very sad, whatever the case.

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